More Tomatoes: Giving some support

16 06 2013

Our plants are in the ground; and though they may be small at first, they will eventually grow into amazing specimens with that desirable tomato harvest. This will be a thing of beauty: globes that are large, round and smooth; I just need one in my mouth for a taste. When the ripe orb touches your lips it’s just heaven. It is important to provide appropriate support for the girls, keeping them high and proud for the world to admire. Am I still talking about tomatoes? Um… yes, tomatoes.

Tomatoes need to be kept off the ground, away from the dirt, pests, and soil-born pathogens. How can we accomplish this?

Let’s explore four different categories of tomato support:





Poles are the easiest to place in the garden, but may require maintenance through the growing season. You drive the pole into the ground next to the Ms Tomato, being careful to stay away from the roots. Then just gently tie her to the pole, working your way up the main stem as she grows. Note that indeterminate varieties continue to grow throughout the season, and may outgrow a post if not long enough.

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun...

Just like me, this corkscrew post is twisted and fun…

Just for fun I purchased some corkscrew posts to use in one garden bed this season. I’m sure the neighbors got some ideas if they overheard me talking about a screw in the garden or even a corkscrew in the garden. Either way, it sure makes gardening more fun. I just installed the post in the ground and gently wrapped the main stem around the corkscrew. Those limbs wrapping themselves around the pole is a thing of beauty.

In honor of Father’s Day, I am reminded of something comedian Chris Rock said. It’s a father’s job to keep his daughter off the pole. Of course he was referring to a different kind of pole. In our situation, it’s better to revise the quote. It’s a gardener’s job to keep the tomato plant on the pole.

Trellises are used in a similar way to posts. The plant is gently tied to the trellis as she grows. Some can get creative by tying up side shoots as well, having the plant grow flatter against the trellis. Have you ever had all of your limbs tied up? Trust me, the tomatoes won’t mind, either, as long as the ties aren’t too tight. What’s that? You haven’t had all of your limbs tied up before? How presumptuous of me. And I guess your level of enjoyment would also depend on whether somebody is tied up during a bank robbery, a kidnapping, or a third date. But I digress…

Trellis picture I "borrowed" from another site... I don't have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Trellis picture I “borrowed” from another site… I don’t have a tomato trellis. This is for illustration purposes only.

Have you ever been to a vineyard? Think tomato plants instead of grape vines and you get the trellis idea.

Nothing but net... The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

Nothing but net… The netting underneath the tomato plant allows her to roam free while staying off the ground

By nets I don’t mean trellises, although netting can be used on a trellis. What I am referring to is netting installed under the tomato plant. The net is either in combination with a series of posts or the walls of a garden bed. It provides support for the tomato plant, keeps the fruit off the ground, but lets the tomato plant continue to grow au naturelle without other support. Using lingerie as an analogy, think of this growing method as the under wire shelf bra of the gardening world. And who said gardening couldn’t be exciting?

Now let’s stop my mind from wandering and get to my current favorite method of keeping the tomato plants up. Of course I am referring to cages. Time for the cage match, it’s a rage in the cage, starring Nicholas Cage… Yes, a cage…

Row of tomato cages... Aren't they pretty?

Row of tomato cages… Aren’t they pretty?

Why cages? Without them things can eventually get out of hand. Just ask Siegfried and Roy. Cages allow the plant to continue to grow upward without encroaching on other real estate in the yard or garden. The netting discussed above can lead to sprawl. You don’t have the continual maintenance of tying up the plant during the growing season, as with the pole or trellis.

Looks good in the right kind of cage...

Looks good in the right kind of cage…

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage...

Looks bad in the wrong kind of cage…

You can purchase cages or make your own. It’s important to choose the best design for your garden. Some will look better than others. Kind of like a cage dancer… She may look hot on stage, not so hot in a holding cell…





I decided to make my own using a huge roll of 5 foot tall 14 gauge galvanized wire fence. I don’t think I would have succeeded without my bolt cutters and pliers. The assembly was a lot of work, but check out the results. The cage is basically a wire cylinder with larger holes created at different levels for harvesting. The cylinders have diameters ranging from 19 inches to 24 inches. All wires are wrapped into curves to prevent sharp edges. Keep things smooth and rounded for your comfort and the comfort of your plants. Send me a note if you would like more assembly details.

The openings in the  tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest...

The openings in the tomato cages invite your hand to explore the plant for a delicious harvest…

I’m glad you took time to join me with my exploration of tomato supports. Remember to provide them with support, and they will reward you with a beautiful, and bountiful, harvest.

Gardening for the lazy

5 08 2012

Too much vacation makes Dave lazy. I have been enjoying the sun, the beach, sleeping in, festive beverages, afternoon naps, Olympics on TV. I am not interested in anything that takes, well, effort. Where did I put that “Easy Button” for the garden? Maybe under the beer and nachos? Mmmm, beer…

Anyway, there are some things you can do to make life easier for the lazy gardener. Sure, you can hire another gardener to do the work for you. But then that wouldn’t really be “gardening”, would it.

Here are two ideas to minimize your garden effort. The first is using garden structures that are easy to assemble. A few 1 by 2s screwed into a fence post make a quick and easy trellis. Done. Time for another nap. Oh, and pass the beer and nachos.

Easy trellis in the background, garden bed/bench in the foreground

Easy trellis in the background, garden bed/bench in the foreground


The second idea is to design your garden for ease of effort throughout the season. My raised garden beds are a great bench height, and they have a frame that you can sit on while gardening. Back to being lazy. Enjoy.

Feeling like Elmer Fudd – PVC to the rescue

26 03 2012

I was walking through the yard the other week, admiring the plants in our winter yard, when I noticed something unusual with my blueberry bushes. Did somebody prune them?  I saw all buds below 1 foot were cut off! Then I remembered the rabbit… The fat, nasty rodent was smirking at me that very morning. Have you ever wanted to kill over a bowl or two of tasty berries? I sure did.

Well, I could have gone the Wild West / Loony Tunes route and brought out the shotgun. But I am out of ammo– and the neighbors in the closely spaced lots won’t appreciate gunfire in their back yards.

What to do? What to do? Well, until I find a way to “send bunny on a trip”, I had to stop the damage. My half-assed bird netting from last year needed an upgrade. I got a great roll of new netting, but I needed a frame to put the netting on. Let’s go with cheap. How about using PVC? Yes, that works, but it’s butt-ugly. White plastic ducts look fine in a lab, not so much in a back yard.

But how do you make PVC not look like PVC? Apparently in most cases you don’t. It’s made to look like crap, so deal with it. At least that was the early information I had. But I have a top notch research team, and they suggested making it look like wood.

(Actually not wood, more like what wood looks like in PVC Land.)  I thought what could it hurt to try?

PVC- dark wood stain

pvc heavily sanded and soaked in stain almost looks like wood

I found one link with the suggestion to use wood stain to color the pipe. Brilliant! The only drawback is the hours of sanding required if you do not have a power sander. Dave does not have a power sander. I had nothing else to do on a particular Saturday, so I had at the PVC with 60-grit coarse sandpaper. I followed up with a light coat of stain on one set of pipes. I came close to dunking the other sets in the stain. Results are in the pictures left and below. I can say that it does look like wood from a distance, and it doesn’t look too bad up close. A few zip ties and the netting was looking sharp.

PVC- normal staining process

PVC doesn't soak up the stain. It looks much lighter if you try to stain it like it is wood

There are other ways to decorate PVC for a garden-friendly appearance. Many techniques require the use of primer, which surprisingly is located near the PVC aisle at your local big box home improvement store. One coating of this and you should be ready to paint with your favorite earth tones (or your favorite lawn elf colors, if you’re into that thing). Alternatively, some people have had luck with the spray paint for plastic I will let you know what happens when I try them. And I will let you know whether I can take Mr Rabbit on a long trip…